One million Buddhas and some awfully big ones!

Monywa Travel Blog

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The white elephants at the front of Thandboddhay Paya
People i met here who contributed to, and improved my trip: Julia (Russia)

Monywa is a town of 300,000 human inhabitants, but if you were to count all the Buddha images, then their population would more than quadruple! Now thats no mean feat. Many temples have countless small Buddha images and icons, but if its size that you are after, then do not fear, as the region contains the Worlds largest reclining Buddha, measuring in at a whopping 90 metres. Not to be overshadowed is the second largest standing Buddha in the World, beaten only by a Buddha in Japan, which is actually the largest statue in the World! The 2 can be seen from miles around and really make a visit to the area something out of the ordinary!

Arriving into the bus station without a map and only the name of a hotel, i was a little skeptical when a tuk tuk driver said that the bus station was several kilometres from the place that we were heading.
Pillars filled with Buddhas at Thandboddhay Paya
As his price wasn't too high, we recruited his services and were glad that we did, as the journey was one that any sane person would not want to undertake on foot, let alone with a huge backpack! It was already nearing 2pm when we dropped our bags off, i had no room on my camera memory card and still wanted to get out to see some sights. It was therefore arranged that the tuk tuk driver would drop us at an internet cafe to burn the necessary CD's, then pick us up shortly afterwards and take us to the Thandboddhay Paya and Po Khuang Hill Buddha Park.

Around 2.30pm we were on our way, with the engine squealing as the driver pushed his little speed machine to the max! The 25km ride out to Thandboddhay Paya took around 40 minutes and at the entrance were 2 large white elephants waiting to greet us - just sculptres you understand! The Temple really is a unique work of art, which took 13 years to build and contains a staggering 582,357 Buddha images.
Pillars outside Thandboddhay Paya, packed with small Buddha images
I'm not sure who counted them, but it sure wasn't me :) Around the edge of the Temple were large pillars, which contained countless small carvings and once inside, the sight was equally impressive, with an array of different sized Buddhas, many painted with gold leaf. Obviously these large golden Buddhas took centre stage, but i found it interesting how they had managed to squeeze so many smaller carvings into every nook and cranny! The paintings on display were also of interest and depicted various scenes relating to Buddha and the surrounding environment.

After an hour in and around the temple, we walked a little further afield to take in some more impressive buildings in the vicinity and also to climb an impressive tower for a birds eye view over the whole complex.
Thandboddhay Paya - Huge Golden Buddhas, supplemented with countless tiny Buddhas, carved into every nook and cranny
As the day was slowly but surely drawing to a close, we had to make a move in order to get to Po Khuang Hill Buddha Park, located around 5km away. On our Drive to Thandboddhay Paya we had spotted one of the star attractions, looming on the horizon. As our tuk tuk shot along the small country road, with only ox carts for company, a towering golden Buddha began to become larger and larger and soon it dominated the skyline. We pulled into the car park, where we were met by an equally colossal golden pagoda, with the largest reclining Buddha in the World behind that and the ominous standing one situated at the peak of the hill beyond that.

Having removed our shoes, Julia and I began our ascent up the hill, with the first destination been the pagoda. An added bonus was the walkway that led into and up the pagoda and thus gave some fantastic views of the 2 giant Buddhas and also the whole park area.
Thandboddhay Paya - Huge Golden Buddha, supplemented with countless tiny Buddhas, carved into every nook and cranny
With the sun turning orange and lowering on the horizon, our main objective was to get up close and personal with the Buddhas, whilst we still had some good light. Clamerbering up the hill bare footed was rather painful at times, but when we reached the reclining Buddha, we realised that the effort had been well worthwhile. The gigantic statue in front of us makes you realise how small humans really are! Although the detail and artistic beauty would pale in comparison next to the Buddha from Wat Pho, the sheer size of it made it awe inspiring. After marvelling for a few minutes, we continued to the top of the hill to take a closer look at the newly built standing Buddha. This statue is much more ornate and its size is equally impressive and thus it grabbed my attention the most of all.
Thandboddhay Paya - a view from the look out tower
A few moments to pose for photos and begin to understand how an ant must feel and we were back on our way down the mountain to watch the sun slowly setting.

With the sun nearly gone we boarded the tuk tuk and had him whisk us around to one final area. On the way we passed a huge lying Buddha that was under construction and will no doubt be the largest of its kind and ended up infront of a very fine Buddha, seated on elephants. To my immediate recollection, I could never remember having seen one like this and it really impressed me. The moon had come out also made an appearance in the blue sky, adding to the beauty of the moment. It had been a mind boggling couple of hours and already i was pleased that we had made our way out to this largely forgotten area of Myanmar.
Me at Po Khuang Hill Buddha Park - Giant standing and reclining Buddha with a 'miniature' Buddha in front!


Our evening was a little less inspiring, as promises of hot water in our room never materialised and then we had a struggle to find any reasonably priced food. Our hotel restaurant was packed with locals, but when we got a menu the prices were the highest we had seen in Myanmar so far and it was extremely dubious that the locals there would be paying so much for their Dinner! A couple of other eateries on our street obviously also saw the $$$$ signs flash when we walked in and were quoting way higher than normal for their simple pre cooked chicken and rice. Eventually we found a restaurant who were happy to accept our custom and our skin colour didn't mean that we would have to pay double. A portion of biryani and chicken was duly polished off in record time.
Po Khuang Hill Buddha Park - An army of Buddha's
Back at the hotel and it was an early night as the generator packed in, leaving us in our customary darkness around 10.30!

The following day after consulting the receptionist and our Lonely Planet, it was decided that we would be best to once more hire a tuk tuk to get to where we were going. Unbelievably a 60km round trip was a whopping $15, which in Myanmar terms is a lot of money. I couldn't believe no-one would come lower than this as petrol would only cost $3 tops and the average wage of a teacher in the country is $1 a day. Thus the tuk tuk driver made 12 days wages for a 5 hour round trip. Pretty good going. I'd also like to comment at this point that anyone going to Myanmar really should not take the Lonely Planet with them if they want advice on prices.
Po Khuang Hill Buddha Park - Me and the Worlds 2nd largest standing Buddha
Its not only inaccurate but its catastrophically wrong on everything other than hotels and admission fees. Transport, food, internet etc etc are the furthest off that ive ever seen for a country. Anyway, back to happier things!

Our ride out to Po Win Daung caves began quite smoothly, but after crossing a large modern concrete bridge that spanned the Chindwin River, the ride took on a different perspective. The road soon turned to dusty gravel and small rickety wooden bridges had to be traversed at regular points. On a positive note, there were some lovely sun flower fields, but in stark contrast further down the road, there were many Burmese families sifting through the leftovers of the copper mines that were in the area. Having passed several mines along the way, it once again highlighted the wonderful natural resources that the government has at its fingertips and makes you ask the question 'Where is all the cash going?'.
Po Khuang Hill Buddha Park - Worlds 2nd largest standing Buddha, with the moon above its head
It doesn't take a rocket scientist to work out the answer to that, but its places like this that really drill it home.

Having only expected the tuk tuk to take an hour, we were relieved when we actually made it to the caves a little over 2 hours later! At one point we had to get out of the speed demon and help push it up a small hill! Knowing what i do now, i would certainly have gone to a taxi first to procure its services, but i guess it was an adventure!

A friendly young chap called Myo Myo greeted us at the entrance to the caves and offered to guide us around. He said we could pay him whatever we felt fair and as we didn't have to pay any entrance fee for some reason we split this 50/50 with him and gave him $3, which he seemed pretty pleased about! I dont actually think that guides are allowed in the caves, as ours grabbed a camera to make it look as though he was a tourist and he was also pretty insistent that i only hand him 1000kyat in front of the other locals and the rest he pocketed elsewhere.
Po Khuang Hill Buddha Park - Buddha sat on 4 elephants, the moon is already out!
His business i guess!

Taking the opportunity for a toilet break, i re-emerged to find Julia dancing around in a panic with stories of how the macaques had just creeped up on her and tried to steal our food! I locked our snacks safely away in the bag and Myo Myo led us up to the first series of caves, passing the guilty looking macaques on the way. Joining us on our journey around the caves would be a woman who was desperately trying to sell us food to feed the macaques with. She would also re arrange our shoes every time we took them off to enter a cave (required as it is religious ground) and simply wasn't willing to leave us alone until we bought something, which we told her we wouldn't be doing. More of her later.

The caves were carved from the cliffs in the 12th century and have had additional paintings added to them, in the 16th and 17th centuries.
Po Win Daung Caves - Painted fresoes
In total there are 947 caves in the complex and a whopping 446,444 Buddha images! As the rock is sandstone, it made it easier for the sculptors to work, although there has obviously been more wear and tear through time and nature, due to the rocks lack of durability. Paintings within the caves were surprisingly well maintained and this is in no small part due to a number of dedicated monks protecting them. Nowadays the caves have metal bars sealing them off, but i was slightly lost by the fact that there were no locks on them, so anyone could still walk in. Myo Myo took us on a tour of his favourites, as the entire complex would take days to get around and we saw a plethora of Buddhas in a variety of positions, along with some excellent paintings depicting the life of Buddha.
Po Win Daung Caves - Buddha statues, with painted fresoes surrounding them.
Within Queen Cave was a beautiful Buddha in the state of Nirvana and there was also a fantastic marble Buddha located within the rocks known as Mount Meru.

As we entered our final cave of the tour we heard a scream from behind us, followed by a lot of monkey noises and when we turned around, the lady who was following us was in the middle of a full scale battle with a group of macaques numbering well over a dozen. Peanuts were flying, sandals were been waved and screams on both sides could be heard through the valley. A comedy moment occured as one macaque came running past us on its back legs with a packet of peanuts tucked under both arms and one in the mouth. Between the four of us, we managed to get them away from the woman, who seemed more interesting in now taking the fight to them! Fantastic :)

Tour over, we said our goodbyes to Myo Myo and set off for another bumpy arse jingling 2 hours.
Family of macaques at Po Win Daung Caves
To complicate matters further, the bike clearly wasn't designed for the terrible little bridges that we had to cross and soon there was a very strange sounding noise been emitted from the left hand side of the bike. After several stops and checks, the driver decided that he would just carry on at a snails pace and see where we could get to, before the bike finally died! This eventuality happened only a couple of Kilometres from Monywa and after arranging payment, he bundled us onto another trishaw with a monk and 2 local women. It was an interesting end to a likewise interesting trip!

As our travel time had been much more than anticipated, we were not in time to catch the bus on to Pakokku, so had to check back into our hotel, which we weren't too happy about.
Po Win Daung Caves - Buddha statues, with painted fresoes surrounding them.
Once again we were promised hot water, yet none materialised and we were left with a cold shower in a filthy bathtub to wash away the days grime. In the evening Julia and I were desperate to catch up with some internet, but we were accosted by a young local guy called Sithatun, who requested that he could join us to practice his English. Trying to email and talk at the same time really isn't conducive, so i soon gave up and we took him to a coffee shop for a drink and a chat. He was a big reader and also a budding politician, something which isn't really recommendable within Myanmar! A couple of hours passed discussing his own fate and that of the countries and it turned out that he was enjoying his last days of freedom before taking over his fathers trucking company.
Po Win Daung Caves - Buddha statues, with painted fresoes surrounding them.
It had been nice to chat with him, but it had been an exhausting day, so we said our farewells and headed home for a sond nights sleep.

The following day was a typically early 7am start and when checking out, our hotel did give us a small discount to their credit and were still unsure why their boiler wasn't working! A tuk tuk took us down to the bus station and from here it was a 3 and a half hour journey south to Pakokku. Arriving in god knows where, we were forced into hiring a couple of trishaw drivers to take us down to the ferry terminal, where we boarded a boat to take us to Nyaung U, the jumping off point for adventures around the temples at Bagan. I was a bit annoyed that the ferry charged double for foreigners and seemed quite shameless about doing so.
Po Win Daung Caves - Painted fresoes
Its odd how certain buses, ships, taxis, or even restaurants for that matter, will charge a standard rate in the country, whilst others think its normal to make Westerners pay often double or triple. The worse thing with this particular ferry was that if you didn't pay, then it would be a 33km swim... and they knew it!
Deats says:
Thanks a lot,, thats nice of you to say :)))
Posted on: Feb 04, 2008
oldschoolbill says:
Very informitive, great pics, Thank you
Posted on: Feb 04, 2008
Deats says:
If you are heading to Myanmar and have any questions then drop me a line and i'll be happy to give you the low down on money changers, buses, accomodation, cheap eats etc. Cheers!
Posted on: Feb 02, 2008
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The white elephants at the front o…
The white elephants at the front …
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Pillars filled with Buddhas at Th…
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Me at Po Khuang Hill Buddha Park …
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Family of macaques at Po Win Daun…
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Po Win Daung Caves - Buddha statue…
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Thandboddhay Paya - Countless tin…
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Thandboddhay Paya - Countless tin…
Thandboddhay Paya - Countless tiny…
Thandboddhay Paya - Countless tin…
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Thandboddhay Paya - Countless tiny…
Thandboddhay Paya - Countless tin…
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Giant standing and reclining Buddha
Giant standing and reclining Buddha
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Po Khuang Hill Buddha Park - A vi…
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Po Khuang Hill Buddha Park - An a…
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Statue at Po Khuang Hill Buddha P…
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Po Khuang Hill Buddha Park - World…
Po Khuang Hill Buddha Park - Worl…
Po Khuang Hill Buddha Park - World…
Po Khuang Hill Buddha Park - Worl…
Po Khuang Hill Buddha Park - World…
Po Khuang Hill Buddha Park - Worl…
Po Khuang Hill Buddha Park - World…
Po Khuang Hill Buddha Park - Worl…
Sunset at Po Khuang Hill Buddha Pa…
Sunset at Po Khuang Hill Buddha P…
Sunset at Po Khuang Hill Buddha Pa…
Sunset at Po Khuang Hill Buddha P…
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Po Khuang Hill Buddha Park - Budd…
Po Khuang Hill Buddha Park
Po Khuang Hill Buddha Park
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Po Khuang Hill Buddha Park - Budd…
Macaque at Po Win Daung Caves
Macaque at Po Win Daung Caves
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Family of Macaques at Po Win Daun…
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Po Win Daung Caves - Buddha statu…
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Po Win Daung Caves - 2 Buddha sta…
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Po Win Daung Caves - Buddha statue
Po Win Daung Caves - Buddha statue
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Po Win Daung Caves - Mixing old w…
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Po Win Daung Caves - Julia with a…
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Po Win Daung Caves - Painted fres…
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Po Win Daung Caves - Buddha statue
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Po Win Daung Caves
Po Win Daung Caves
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Po Win Daung Caves - Julia and My…
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Po Win Daung Caves - 4 Lion guard…
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Po Win Daung Caves - Headless Bud…
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Po Win Daung Caves - Buddha statu…
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Po Win Daung Caves - Painted fres…
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Po Win Daung Caves - Macaque chom…
Po Win Daung Caves - Macaque chomp…
Po Win Daung Caves - Macaque chom…
Po Win Daung Caves - 4 lion guardi…
Po Win Daung Caves - 4 lion guard…
Macaque at Po Win Daung Caves
Macaque at Po Win Daung Caves
Po Win Daung Caves - Buddha statue…
Po Win Daung Caves - Buddha statu…
Po Win Daung Caves - Buddha statue…
Po Win Daung Caves - Buddha statu…
Po Win Daung Caves - Rock carving
Po Win Daung Caves - Rock carving
Macaque at Po Win Daung Caves
Macaque at Po Win Daung Caves
Modern building at Po Win Daung Ca…
Modern building at Po Win Daung C…
Po Win Daung Caves
Po Win Daung Caves
Po Win Daung Caves - Buddha statue…
Po Win Daung Caves - Buddha statu…
Po Win Daung Caves - Buddha statues
Po Win Daung Caves - Buddha statues
Po Win Daung Caves - Buddha statue
Po Win Daung Caves - Buddha statue
Po Win Daung Caves - Buddha statues
Po Win Daung Caves - Buddha statues
Po Win Daung Caves - Green peacock
Po Win Daung Caves - Green peacock
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Po Win Daung Caves - Buddha statu…
Po Win Daung Caves - Buddha statue…
Po Win Daung Caves - Buddha statu…
Po Win Daung Caves - Golden reclin…
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Po Win Daung Caves
Po Win Daung Caves
Po Win Daung Caves
Po Win Daung Caves
Family of macaques at Po Win Daung…
Family of macaques at Po Win Daun…
The macaques that attacked the pea…
The macaques that attacked the pe…
Po Win Daung Caves - Buddhas footp…
Po Win Daung Caves - Buddhas foot…
Po Win Daung Caves - Giant golden …
Po Win Daung Caves - Giant golden…
Po Win Daung Caves - Ogre statue
Po Win Daung Caves - Ogre statue
Po Win Daung Caves - Mount Meru ca…
Po Win Daung Caves - Mount Meru c…
Po Win Daung Caves - Buddha statues
Po Win Daung Caves - Buddha statues
Grooming macaques at Po Win Daung …
Grooming macaques at Po Win Daung…
Po Win Daung Caves - Buddha statue…
Po Win Daung Caves - Buddha statu…
Sun flower fields
Sun flower fields
Monywa
photo by: TrudyNRonnie